NORWALK, Conn. – A proposal to fix up City Hall’s community room – a “special request” in the next capital budget – finally has some support after months of disrespect.
The $208,000 expenditure has not been recommended for funding in the 2015-16 capital budget by Finance Director Thomas Hamilton, a recommendation that has been validated by Planning Commission members and Mayor Harry Rilling. But on Monday, Planning Committee Chairman Doug Hempstead (R-At Large) exhorted his fellow Council members to give the Department of Public Works the money.
“It has now become, outside of our Council chambers, the (second most) used room that we have,” Hempstead said. “It’s very dated. The acoustics are terrible in there. You can’t hear anything, there’s no visuals, there’s no anything.”
The desire to refurbish the community room – new lighting, new audio/visual system and an upgrade of the kitchen equipment – drew a tepid response in early February from Planning Commission Vice Chairwoman Frances DiMeglio.
She said she could understand wanting new chairs and refurbished wood, but “Why the kitchen?”
“That was a special request, Fran,” Alvord said. “We are responding to special requests.”
“How did this come up?” she asked.
“A special request,” he said.
“OK,” she said, giving up. “In this austere budget season. OK.”
The proposal was criticized a few days later by Diane Lauricella at the Commission’s capital budget public hearing. “I did not read anything about how we would be able to increase our rentals of this room if we had a kitchen that was more modern,” she said.
“The only thing I can say about the community room is we were asked to put that in and we did,” Alvord said.
On Monday, Hempstead said he asked to put it in the capital budget.
“We have hidden gems behind all those little pin boards that are in there. Those are actually bookshelves. You’ve got to remember that was the high school library,” Hempstead said. “… I think it’s a golden opportunity for us to display some of Norwalk’s historical stuff, behind glass in those book shelves. I have been in enough town hall community rooms where they do a lot of that and we have none of it.”
The old Norwalk High School was constructed in 1936 and the library was redone into the City Hall community room in 1987, he said.
“It’s 30 years, folks,” Hempstead said. “We have to start pumping some money into the building. I would like to see that get funded in some way.”
Alvord referred to Information Technology (IT) Director Karen DelVecchio.
“Karen, if I remember correctly, told me she has found something about the audio system down there, and found some ways to improve the acoustics,” Alvord said. “The basic acoustics in the room are terrible to begin with. But I believe they have done some work on the mic system.”
“We have enough hearings in there, because the Council chamber is full,” Hempstead said. “It’s time to bring that room up to the 21st century – the 20th century actually, the end of at least the 20th century. We haven’t put any money in that room since it was opened and, I was just talking about it, we do get rentals from that. That is income producing, obviously not enough.”
Alvord said there are rental rates for the room, but, “We don’t always collect.”
“That’s a hint, folks,” Hempstead said. Councilman Rich Bonenfant (R-At Large) replied, “The thing is that violin that goes with it when they are telling that story.”
The conversation moved on.